Thursday, January 13, 2011

Separation Anxiety

Do you and your dog worry when it comes time to leave him home alone?  Do you worry about what you will come home to – housetraining accidents, chewed baseboards and complaints about doggy screaming from your neighbors?  Does your dog worry and pace when you start to pick up your coat and car keys?  Separation anxiety is a serious issue for the dogs and people affected by it.

Separation anxiety involves a variety of behaviors that are a result of a dog’s inability to relax and be comfortable while you are gone.  These dogs are acting out of a feeling of panic, fear or anxiety that has to do with being left home alone.  Symptoms of separation anxiety may include some or all the following behaviors when left home alone:
  • Eliminating in the house. 
  • Pacing, panting or drooling.
  • Chewing and digging.
  • Sucking, kneading or chewing soft objects like blankets or pillows.
  • Excessive vocalizing – whining, barking or howling.

Separation anxiety isn’t the only reason for misbehavior when dogs are left home alone.  I frequently see dogs that potty in the house, chew inappropriately and whine or bark during the day for other perfectly normal reasons.  They may not be fully housetrained, they may be teething or bored, they make lack “frustration tolerance” or they may be overstimulated by things they see going on outside the window (wildlife, passersby, vehicles, etc).

It is important to analyze the situation and determine whether the behavior is caused by a basic training issue or separation anxiety.  It may require the input of a vet or trainer to distinguish between the two situations however, dogs with separation anxiety will frequently:
  • Eliminate even if left alone for only a short period of time; bowel movements are frequently soft or liquid and may be spread about the house.
  • Chewing and digging are frequently targeted towards doors and baseboards.
  • May harm themselves in the process of trying to chew out or escape.
  • Not eat when left alone.
  • Vocalize as soon as they are left alone and may continue repetitively for long periods of time.

To manage and treat separation anxiety, we need to change the dog’s emotional reaction to being left alone.  We will discuss techniques for preventing and managing separation anxiety in a future post.

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